Paul Davis, who finished his 11th year as general manager of the 90th annual Florida Strawberry Festival, held Feb. 28-March 10 in Plant City, almost ran out of superlatives in describing what a really good event this was for the fair, the entire talent lineup, and Charles Panacek's Belle City Amusements.
Panacek went into Plant City beaming after opening the season with a near record run at the Jan. 17-27 Daniel West-managed Manatee County Fair, Palmetto. “If not for getting rained out the last Sunday we would have had a record in Palmetto,” said Panacek. The next run, the Charlotte County Fair, Port Charlotte, Feb. 1-10, was a record for the carnival, with perfect weather. That was followed by a good outing at the Hendry County Fair, Clewiston, Feb. 12-17, where Panacek has played for many years.
Among those booking at early Florida dates have been T. J. Schmidt Amusements, Arnold Amusements, Michael Wood, Jeremy Floyd, Josh Macaroni, Gary Hughes of Carnival Tyre Shows, and David Starkey. Dave Potopas is back as concession manager. The Gibtown trade show dates conflicted with Panacek having to attend the meeting of the Florida Safety Advisory Board, of which he is a member.
Panacek is pleased that because of opening his season so early, he has received his full allotment of 40 Mexican workers through the H-2B visa program. “Help remains a problem, but the economy is good, and people are spending. As long as we get the weather, this should be a big year,” he said.
Getting back to Plant City, Davis said Willie Nelson sold out and did a great show. Attendance was up five per cent to 568,000, and the fair and carnival took in more money in history on the second Saturday, when the sun shined brightly, and 92,000 people came out. David Snowden of Triangle Talent, Louisville, Ky., booked the entertainment. Steven Tyler, formerly with Aerosmith, had to cancel his Sunday, March 3 show, but there were many highlights. Davis, who worked in law enforcement at the fair for 32 years before becoming GM, said, “Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra and The Kingston Trio packed them in on our two Senior Days. I still know the words to four or five of Kingston Trio's songs. Our lighting man, Dave King, switched everything to LED lights and ticket sales were up 12 per cent. I believe this bodes well for the industry and our economy.”
Davis emphasized, “I have never been around so many good people. Usually when I saw them in law enforcement, they were not at their best. But with the carnival and fair, I've watched people like Ronnie and Kim Netterfield grow up. There are so many people, like the Panaceks, Arnolds and Starkeys. One concessionaire lost his electricity, and within minutes, Ronnie was helping him with extension cords. There was a little lost kid and Ronnie and Kim found him, fed him, and brought him to the office.
“Old Dominion provided a big closing act for us. For King & Country and Keith Sweat are the real deals. They were sensational. What an honor it was to have Pat Boone do his last show here. It was very emotional. We didn't know it was going to be his last, but we couldn't be more pleased. At 84, he said he'd stay around as long as it took to sign autographs for everybody who wanted one. And after Gene Watson's show, Styx made a compliment about how professional he was, one genre to another. It was really a nice occasion.”
In conclusion, Davis said, “We can't compete with a $40 million ride at Disney, or a $30 million ride at Busch Gardens, but we can offer a time to take a break and enjoy a little slice of Americana. We can provide the best a carnival and fair can offer.” Asked if he consumed many strawberries, Davis laughed and said “It comes with the job. I start off with Fiske Fries, Amish doughnuts, and strawberries.”
Acts not mentioned in earlier columns include The Drifters, Platters and Cornell Gunter's Coasters, NeedToBreathe, Watson, Styx The Kingston Trio, The Lettermen, For King & Country, Tanya Tucker, Chris Janson, Keith Sweat, Bill Anderson and Bobby Bare, and Old Dominion. Also, Redhead Express, Dennis Lee, Danny Moody Band, Kazual, Runa Pacha Indian World, Pompeyo Dog Show, Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show, Paul Jr. of American Chopper, Robinson's Racing Pigs, Rock-It the Robot, Kandu Magic Show, and The Walker Boys.
The Feb. 25-March 17 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, with Ray Cammack Shows on the Midway, has produced two record crowds for concerts so far. They are 75,580 on the opening Friday for Cardi B, and 75,586 on the second Sunday for Los Tigres Del Norte. The World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, held the Thursday through Saturday before the big show, drew 215,685, compared to 215,476 last year. A standalone show by George Strait, Lyle Lovett, and Robert Earl Keen is expected to draw more than 80,000 people on St. Patrick's Day, March 17. The next biggest crowds have been 71,366, Brooks & Dunn; 74,738, Panici at the Disco; 72,384; Luke Combs, and 75,122, Kane Brown.
“It was the best fair we've ever had, phenomenal.” Those were the words of Jeanne Keaton, who has been general manager of the St. Lucie County Fair, Fort Pierce, Fla., since 1993. “We were up 10 per cent on the midway and seven per cent at the gate.” Strates Shows provides the midway, in an arrangement with Jerry Murphy of Murphy Bros. Exposition. Attendance was estimated at 134,000.
“St. Lucie and Martin County are poorer counties, so it takes everybody working together. We didn't do anything different, didn't go up on prices. A local radio station made it possible to book Carly Pierce and Seth Anthony. We work hard to spread the word and people like to come to our fair. We book most of our acts direct during the Florida Association of Fairs convention each year,” said Keaton.
Entertainment for the 54th annual event included PRCA Rodeo, Hypnotist Chris Mabrey, the Greenville Groundhogs, Ninja Express, Danny Grant's Cowboy Circus, Robo Cars, Funny Little People, demolition derby, and Show Me Safari Petting Zoo and Racing Pigs. Mega Pass, good for admission and unlimited rides, sold for $65 in advance, or $85 after Feb. 28. Gate admission was $15 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for children. St. Lucie is spring training base of the New York Mets.
Thanks to all who have offered prayers, thoughts and phone calls after my surgery for melanoma of the forehead last Friday. To be honest, I've told family and friends I never would have had it done if I had known how tough it would be. The answer to that is Christine and my four kids would have insisted I go through with it, along with my own good sense.
I have two yellow cones sticking out of my head, forcing me to sleep each night on a chair, and using up all my pain pills due to headaches. The results aren't in yet about how much of the cancer they were able to get rid of. I suspect some radiation and chemotherapy will be involved. Hopefully, this Thursday, the plastic surgeon will remove the big yellow objects and some of the bandages. I've seen some great 15-round boxing matches, and for a while I felt as if I were in one—and lost.
Have all great days, and God Bless!
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